(Editor’s note: This is part of a series on contested race in the May 20 primary election.)
For the first time since 2000, there is a contested Republican primary for Logan County Sheriff. The candidates are Joe Gilliam of Paris and Boyd Hicks of Magazine. The winner in the Tuesday, May 20 election will advance to the November general election.
Hicks is currently the Magazine Police Chief and Gilliam is a former officer with the Fort Smith Police Department and the Arkansas State Police. Early voting for the primary begins next Tuesday, May 6.
Both candidates said last week they opted to run as Republicans due to their conservative belief systems that do not line up with the Democratic platform, but both also claim no unfettered allegiance.
"Republican (party) has just always been our belief system," Gilliam said. "But I’ve never voted a straight ticket. In the last election I was probably split."
Hicks announced well before the filing period as a Democrat but quickly shifted to Republican.
"(Running as a Democrat) was what I intended to do because that’s what everybody did," Hicks said. "I always vote for the person, not the party. After I announced, I struggled with it in my heart and didn’t feel I was being true to who I was and I couldn’t make myself align with the policy of the Democrats, especially on the national level."
Consequently, Hicks says, he did not actually switch parties.
"The truth is I looked at Jon Eubanks, Bill Gossage, Gary Stubblefield — people who have the same viewpoints as I do and I felt like whether I won or lost, I had to run as a Republican," Hicks said.
Party preference, Gilliam said, may be less important in the race.
"I think in general, the public in Logan County is rumored to be a Democratic-voting party, but the thing is people just want someone to do the job," Gilliam said. "It’s not like governor or congressman on the local level. I think they truly want change, whether that be (incumbent) Steve (Smith) remain in office and change some things or bring in a new regime."
Hicks agrees with that final thought.
"I believe the fact that we’ve got five people running indicates we want a change, or at least people think we need a change."
In addition to the two Republicans, there are three Democrats seeking the nomination for Sheriff.
If it comes to a changing of the guard, Gilliam and Hicks both feel they present strengths of experience, albeit coming from differing perspectives.
Currently employed by Walmart for asset protection, Gilliam touts his six plus years with the FSPD and six more with the ASP.
"I think with the experience we bring, especially from two of the biggest departments in the state — the Arkansas State Police is a great organization," Gilliam said. "I’m trained to handle multiple situations at once."
"The big factor is my years of experience," Hicks said. "I’ve got more than 20 years of experience in Logan County, with the exception of a few months. I’m from here. I graduated from grade school and high school here. I’m 56 years old and I’ve been here for over 50 of those years. I raised a family here, I’m going to be here regardless. I’ve been a wildlife officer here. I’ve been on every road in the area. I know the people. I know the court system."
Gilliam uses his youth as a selling point.
"I’m 35 years old. I’m not looking for this to be a last job before retirement," Gilliam said. "I have people tell me they have been in law enforcement 28 years and we don’t do things now like we did them then. From the time I got into law enforcement, I used off duty hours for training so I actually have as much training as some people who have 25 years experience — and I’m not taking anything away from anyone who risks their life for their community."
Both contend the community extends beyond the walls of the sheriff’s office.
"One thing we need improvement on is for law enforcement agencies to work together, but also work together with agencies like DHS (Department of Human Services) to make a better county," said Hicks. "I’ve gained a certain amount of trust over the years, and that’s hard to acquire."
"We summarize our campaign in six words — our family, our county, our responsibility," said Gilliam. "If it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for me. If you have a theft, we’re not going to just take a report over the phone. We’re going to work to get your property back immediately."
The candidates’ views on the situation at the Logan County Detention Center have similarities.
"My thoughts are that the jail will more than likely be shut down by the end of the year. I don’t have a problem with the research of a bi-county jail but believe that a Logan County jail should also be given as a choice to the voters," Gilliam said. "People I have spoke with do not like the idea of a bi-county jail and would rather us put our efforts in looking at a Logan County jail."
"I think the condition of the jail could be resolved with no or little cost," he said. "The state laid out what they wanted done, and obviously with a recent escapee using a tool in his escape that we had been hit on for having, we are not aggressively attacking these issues."
"I think everyone knows that we are going to have to build a new jail. I know the County Judge, Quorum Court and Sheriff have been working on the issue and are currently working with Franklin County on the possibility of a bi-county jail," said Hicks. "I don’t have enough information to make a decision on that proposal but there are a number of red flags that come to mind with that possibility. What I do know is that I believe the state is going to force the issue and I believe we need to be the ones making the decisions on what we need to build and how we are going to pay for it, not a Federal judge after the state shuts us down.
"I do believe the only fair way to fund a new jail is a sales tax, not a millage increase that would put the burden solely on property owners," he said.
Hicks is married to Karen Hicks and they have one son and four grandchildren. He and his wife have served as foster parents to 33 kids.
Gilliam is married to Nicole Gilliam and they have four children and currently have foster custody of another child.